Retweet, share, rate, join, check in, like: we live in a time of constant affirmation. But what does all this “yes” mean without a little “no”?
At the Schlingensief Seminar held at Hebbel am Ufer 3 on Monday, Johannes Hoff (a Catholic theologian with whom Christoph Schlingensief shared a “lively exchange of thoughts about last things and last questions”) and Carl Hegemann (the friend and dramaturg who put the two in contact) talked about Schlingensief’s search for ways to come to terms with death during his struggle with cancer. Acceptance is loss’s clichéd little brother, a familiar trope in discussions like this, but a different spin on this idea of acceptance also kept popping up between Hoff and Hegelmann: To be ready to die, you have to consider everything to be egal, the same –- life and death, traditional notions of good and evil, what makes a good life or a bad one. And you can achieve that egalitary perspective by saying “yes” to everything.
A simple enough statement: Always say “yes.” It’s a word that comes easy in a world that seems to want nothing more from us than yes, yes, yes. From the “Like” function on Facebook to the yes-I-am-here mentality driving foursquare, we seem to be in a constant state of affirmation: seeking something to affirm, hoping that someone else will affirm us. Phenomena like group buying power (where coupons for deep discounts are up for sale as long as enough people say “yes” to the deal) and crowd-sourced funding (where organizations get money only if they get enough “yeses” from potential donors to reach their funding goal) rely on this affirmation addiction to work.
In a world of “yeses,” here I sit writing for and about the Theatertreffen, which by its very existence defends our right to say “no.” As Iris Laufenberg and Joachim Sartorius write, in response to the critics’ reaction to this year’s Theatertreffen selection:
“Why no productions from the masters of Regietheater? … Were they not good enough or something?” “On the contrary. They were really good. But the ones chosen are even better.”
And although we bloggers are not here solely as critics, criticism is an important part of our work over the coming weeks. Yesterday, as our blogging seminar worked towards a common understanding of what criticism means, Dirk Pilz reminded us of the origins of the German word Kritik: the Greek root it comes from means simply “to distinguish one thing from another.” To loosely quote and translate: “Criticism is an operation of differentiation.” Implicit in this definition of criticism is the process of affirmation and negation: that we must be able to say “no, this is not Y” just as clearly as “yes, this is X.”
If saying “yes” to everything can be thought of as a way to come to terms with death, to give everything the same value, what does it mean to claim the right to say “no”? The Theatertreffen jury has already said “yes” 10 times, but we can’t forget that, in contrast to a “Like” on Facebook, these 10 “yeses” imply countless explicit “nos.” Over the coming weeks, the audiences, critics, and bloggers at the Theatertreffen will continue this process of affirmation and negation. I’m all for it. I think we need to defend the right of the “no” to exist in our “yes”-world. The search for an egalitary perspective is not something that belongs in a theater that challenges its audience to ask questions, to make decisions — in other words, to live. Because we’re not yet all trying to figure out how to make it okay to die. Because we aren’t yet ready to make everything the same.